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Orphan Boy - Coastal Tones (Review)

Orphan Boy, Coastal Tones

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

IT may get off to a slightly indifferent start but the new album from Orphan Boy quickly reveals itself to be an epic, ambitious and tremendously rousing third album from them.

Offering an unflinching view of life on the fringes, frontman Rob Cross’ lyrical inspirations range from the bleak view of a Grimsby tower block to furious ruminations on the neglected realms of Scunthorpe, Doncaster and many other often overlooked Northern pastures. It’s hard-hitting in that regard, yet utterly compelling for long periods.

But then, as Rob explains: “I’ve always liked the idea of seeing the beauty in the mundane.”

He also cites Jarvis Cocker, Irvine Welsh and Charles Bukowski as lyrical touchstones.

“People don’t give small towns credit, but places like Morecombe and Kirkcaldy have a real sense of community spirit. Singing about Grimsby and Cleethorpes is all part of that. It’s an undocumented part of the country which is as valid as anywhere else.”

In terms of vibe, there are moments here that rival the likes of Pulp, James and Editors for the way in which they wrap beautifully realised tales around tracks that are high on instrumental energy and invention – not to mention some great melodies.

Opening with the former single Beats Like Distant Tides, the album does – admittedly – feel as urgent as ever with its drum beats and siren-like guitars, while the lyrics declaring “there’s a rain cloud hanging across my shoulder” set an early tone. But it’s far from the standout moment despite being a former single.

Transpennie, for instance, opens in low-key yet beautifully entrancing fashion, like the train it speaks of, before then dropping a really slick bassline and a set of vocals that sound fondly reflective. The guitar work also builds a nice head of steam to give the song a firm sense of identity. It’s an early favourite – and James-like in the way it unfolds in layers.

On A Nelson Skyline also carries an early ’90s vibe, this time comparable with a band like Shed 7, yet it’s mid-tempo mellowness allows Cross to paint another compelling portrait of Northern life. The central guitar here is a doozy too.

There’s kitsch ’80s electronic elements surrounding From The Provinces and its synth sound, albeit one of the less successful offerings, but Money To Money succeeds in restoring the album to its high standards with some more excellent guitar work and an instantly anthemic sound that even has a Levellers vibe. The chorus is one of the best.

Strong, too, are the latter tracks Clover, which again has a James-like sound and some really catchy melodic hooks, and final offering Thirtysomething Lovesick Ballad, which has a Pulp-meets-Sunflower kind of feeling and another gritty slice of Northern pining.

But title track Coastal Towns is perhaps the standout offering courtesy of its vibrant and sometimes downright violent lyrical images, its slow-build introduction (that haunts like the ghosts it sometimes speaks of) and its sly mix of saxophone and bass that really lends it a Northern sheen. It’s a bold offering soaked in tragedy that really underlines Orphan Boys’ skills as songwriters and performers.

This is an impressive overall achievement.

Download picks: Transpennie, On A Nelson Skyline, Money To Money, Clover, Coastal Tones

Track listing:

  1. Beats Like Distant Tides
  2. Sunken Hearts
  3. Transpennie
  4. On A Nelson Skyline
  5. From The Provinces
  6. Money To Money
  7. Clover
  8. Bury Your Stars
  9. Coastal Tones
  10. Thirtysomething Lovers Ballad